February 20, 2023

Protecting Brand Reputation in the Affiliate Channel

Richard Branson once said, “Your brand name is only as good as your reputation.”

A customer’s perception of your brand is one of your most valuable assets–period. Not only is it the gateway to converting leads into customers, but it’s also key in turning your customers into advocates who will ultimately shape and grow your business. And that, as you know, is invaluable. 

While affiliate marketing is a high ROI-driving channel, affiliate marketing success is by no means a sure thing or easy to come by. It takes a wealth of expertise to manage your offers, content, and returns across many affiliates–all at the same time, by the way.

And then there’s the trust factor. In short, you are who you do business with. Partnering with the wrong affiliates–you know, the ones who don’t share your brand values or respect for compliance regulations– can pose a real threat to your brand integrity. 

For example, if you’re a finance brand and one of your affiliates promotes outdated or inaccurate numbers, you could be hit with large fines from the FTC, not to mention suffer a brutal blow to your brand’s competitive standing. The same is true if you end up on an affiliate site that features inappropriate or offensive content that doesn’t come close to living up to  your brand values. 

At the very least, an  inconsistent representation of your brand can create confusion and distrust among your prospects and customers. Obviously, that’s never a good thing–and neither are the hefty fines (think thousands of dollars daily) you may face if you’re not well-versed in the regulatory environment. Worse yet, it can seriously interfere with your ability to expand your business. That’s why defining the right affiliate marketing guardrails for your business is non-negotiable  if you’re going to reap the real benefits. And, really, what’s the point otherwise?

The Affiliate Marketing “Glow Up”

In the early 2000s, affiliate marketing was a bit like the wild west. Regulation was loose and, for the most part, affiliate was solely a numbers game. In theory, more traffic equaled more sales and bigger profits. But in reality, the premium placed on record-breaking traffic is what also led to widespread bot follower fraud and fake engagement. 

Despite the industry’s explosive growth since then, some marketers have had a hard time looking past affiliate’s once “wild” reputation. 

But with the continued growth of e-commerce, steering clear of this high ROI-driving channel is a big mistake.

Okay, But How Have Things Changed?

For starters, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is watching all digital marketing channels like a hawk and cracking down on deceptive claims, hidden fine-print disclosures, confusing terms, and other compliance issues. These days, illegal behavior comes with serious repercussions, like astronomical fines and permanent business closures. 

Also, marketers are taking a much more nuanced approach in choosing potential affiliate partners. High traffic is not the most impressive or important metric anymore. More attention is being paid to thoroughly vetting potential affiliates to eliminate those who don’t align with a brand’s values or have a proven track record of credibility.

So, How Exactly Can You Protect Your Brand Reputation?

Are you set up to navigate the complexities of the affiliate marketplace?

Whether you’ve spent decades building a brand or you’re launching a new initiative, how your brand is perceived is currency that can open many doors–or, unfortunately, close them, too. We’ve helped many brands who initially tried to kick off an affiliate program with inexperienced staff, limited partnerships, and little data reporting to handle the day-to-day troubleshooting and nurturing required to consistently optimize and protect against the unexpected. 

It’s important to ask yourself these questions:

Bottom line? Affiliate is not a part-time gig. And let’s face it, if you’re already too busy to build a high-performing team skilled in the operational ins and outs, is anyone really keeping a close eye on brand integrity? I’m here to tell you that they absolutely should. 

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